In what’s becoming an annual tradition, I stopped by the Crooked Pint in downtown Minneapolis Friday night to find out what shows are getting some buzz in this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Once again, the Fringe appears to have it all, from body hair to blood baths. And it seems this year in particular, people are telling some compelling personal stories.
Here are ten shows reviewed by some enthusiastic Fringe-goers who were kind enough to shout their thoughts above the din of the crowd.
1. Anna Zaros went to check out #relationshipstatus, a show about how life has changed since Minnesota legalized gay marriage.
I have friends in the show, but I cried in scenes that no one I knew was in! It was meaningful to me because I did a lot of work on this issue. It was funny, thoughtful, sweet and lovely… and it felt like a celebration, especially since it’s been a year – today! – since it went into law. It’s made up of these vignettes of four pairs of people – straight, gay, friends, romantic – and how legalizing gay marriage effected them and their lives, and how they grew during the past year.
2. Zoe Benston went to see Fotis Canyon by local storyteller Mike Fotis.
Fotis is so funny and heartfelt – it was a very personal show. It deals with personal anxieties and things he hasn’t talked about publicly before. He’s still working on it and some things could use a little tightening, but it was revealing, hilarious and moving. Fotis has this wonderful style – he sits in a chair, he reads, he yells and he often laughs at his own stuff – things I would normally hate in a storyteller, but I love it when he does it. Even though in this context you wouldn’t think of him as a performer, this is a performance style that works with his writing. He’s just a very lovable guy.
3. Rick Crabtree went to check out Uptown Bank Heist:
The writing is tight. It reminds me of “Noises Off” – it has farce, and it has a lot of reversals – and the characters are all three dimensional, which is unusual for a Fringe show. It might seem like a slow set up but it picks up into a whirlwind pace and everybody has a reason for being vested in this heist.
4. Sara Erdman went to The Bother:
“The Bother” is by three people who do a lot of improv in the Twin Cities, but it was a scripted show. It’s about a women who becomes famous for writing children’s books about a monster, but it really parallels a dark part of her own past. There were funny moments – it was very well-written – but with a serious undertone to it. I thought the acting was very strong. I was really engaged in the story and enjoyed it. My only complaint is about the theater acoustics at Rarig Thrust. There was so much noise from the hallway that it was distracting at times for the audience, and I wonder if it distracted the actors, too.
It was really delightful. I was wonderfully surprised by this show; it was funny, while the music was dark and touching. I’m a big Poe fan so I was happy to spot bits from different Poe stories in the show. It has a really light dialogue, but then it gets really dark, as Poe can, with wonderful twists and turns. You think it’s something but then it becomes something else. There’s a moment where they go to the woods and have a secret pact. It’s spooky and really charming and funny at the same time. It illuminated how friendships – especially boyhood friendships – can have a tinge of jealousy, and how quickly a friend can become a foe.
6. Veteran Fringe performer Josh Carson is the force behind this year’s “Our American Assassin; or, You Can’t Handle The Booth!” But he still found time to check out Tim Uren’s “The Tourist Trap.”
I generally am not a fan of horror on stage because it comes off cheesy, but this show had genuine tension. I was literally squirming and looking away – Game of Thrones Red Wedding style – thinking “that’s not happening!” The first half is so tense, and you’re waiting for the bottom to fall out but it doesn’t, and it still doesn’t and it still doesn’t and then… all bets are off. There was a moment where they literally cut somebody – even in a movie it’s hard to watch, but when it’s on stage and blood starts coming out – I physically gasped, and then I felt like an idiot because I was being “that person” at the show. And it’s a 45 minute show! What’s that like?! In fact I think they could have spent more time with it – I could see an expanded version. The special effects were great, but it would be fun to see even more.
7. Ariel Leaf says she felt obligated to see her friends in Fifth Planet, but says it turned out to be marvelous.
It’s about an amateur astronomer who works up on a hill and constantly encounters a professional astronomer on her way to work. They start out with certain assumptions about each other, and they change dramatically over the course of the show. It’s funny and touching and fluid – it just keeps moving. It’s 44 scenes in 55 min with 99 light cues – it’s amazing! And yet it doesn’t feel rushed. I loved it – everything clicked and continued to move and brought you right where you wanted to be at the end of the night.
8. Monique Lindquist went with some friends to check out Now I See, a production from Wahpeton, North Dakota.
It’s wonderful – it’s based on a 1930s radio show that they turned into a play. It’s about a gentleman who wants to be a manager for a champion boxer, and it’s about how he comes to do this, and how it all falls apart at the end. It has a real 1930s feel to it. The way they brought you into the story and held you there… they made you feel for the character without giving you all the information right away. And they leave you hanging – there are no easy answers. I liked that they didn’t tie it up.
9. Nick Vetter and Caroline Toll met at the Fringe years ago, and the annual theater festival is one of the founding rocks of their marriage. They came away from Allegra Duncan Lingo’s “Genealogy of Happenstance” thoroughly impressed.
This is really deeply personal stuff – and it’s so relatable. It’s the story of her and her wife trying to conceive. You have to go to counseling – fertility counseling – in order to get approval for insemination, and yet many people know nothing about the process. The show has everything – God and sex and friendship and grieving. It deals with the identity politics of being a mother who isn’t the biological mom. It’s totally an amazing show.
10. Debbie Tallen decided to check out The Natural Novice, a one-woman show from New York City that’s traveling the festival circuit.
It’s about her decision to stop shaving. It was a sparse audience but for an out of town show it was very well attended. Probably in part because her show postcard shows her naked. She had fantastic energy and a great ability to laugh at herself. She portrayed I don’t even know how many different characters, each unique and well-developed. They all tied into different people in her life who have different experiences and viewpoints in regards to body hair, from a friend who at the age of ten developed body hair like crazy to a transgender friend trying to manage his body hair while transitioning to his life as a woman. I found it interesting that I was admiring her strength as she was talking about her insecurities.
So what Fringe shows do you recommend?